Monday, October 30, 2006

Tales of the Hopelessly Homeschooled

Just thought I'd give y'all a sneak peek at the book I'm currently lining up for publication. My cousin Carolyn and I started writing it years ago--finishing it's a little scary, but it feels good :). It is a collection of short, humourous essays reflecting on life in large homeschooled families, and it's currently titled Tales of the Hopelessly Homeschooled. I don't care for the title and plan to do something ingenius to fix it (involving YOU, O highly unaware world of homeschool families).

I had fun putting the Tables of Contents together with quotes from the chapters yesterday, so here's a look at them:

Table of Contents


Part One: Make Way for Livin'

1. Ontario: The Journey Begins

The peace was quickly shattered by a loud bellow, "Are there any more small stuffables? Last call for small stuffables! No? All right, then... EVERYBODY IN!"

2. We Wish You a Currey Christmas

No sooner was the tree decorated than it fell over, flooding the living room with the contents of the tree-bucket and breaking several ornaments. Oh, did I neglect to mention that my father was stuck underneath the tree?

3. Freezing At Eighty-Five Degrees

Polar bears, seals, and naked mole rats are suited to their environments. People are not.

4. Hobbits Shall Not Suffer Alone

It is a frightening thing to realize that one's cousins and sisters do not need a wake up call. It makes one think of plots being hatched.

5. Can I Have...?

Babysitting is like playing tennis. The kids stand on one side of the net and fire requests, and the babysitter leaps, dives, and swishes to throw the answers right back before something unfortunate happens.

6. The Rutabaga Fest
We Thomsons descended on the world of trade shows like Attila the Hun with a sales pitch.

There is, of course, much more to come. I'll be posting actual book excerpts here shortly, so check back or, better yet, subscribe to this blog (the link is on the right).

In other news, I'm thinking of moving this blog.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

The Truth About Modern "Beauty"

A friend emailed this to me today... it's a one-minute video that's definitely worth a look, especially if you're a female who has ever seen a movie, TV show, billboard, magazine cover, glamour shot... actually, it probably wouldn't hurt men to have a look, either!

Beauty Is In the Eye of the Beholder

Here's to reality.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Writing Tips: Clarity in Word Choice (Say What You Mean)

Never underestimate the power of one little word. A few letters here; a syllable there; but the difference between "Do feed the lion" and "Do not feed the lion" can't be measured. It might, in fact, be the difference between life and death.

Good communication is important. Writers have a high place in the cast of history because they possess the power to communicate: their instructions, ideals, visions, and protests have changed the world more than once. The writing project you're working on may not have the significance of The Declaration of Independence or The Gospel According to John, but if you're going to write it's important that you master the art of saying what you mean.

Two important tools can help you with this:

1. The Dictionary. If you're not sure what a word means, look it up! Did you know that a casualty is a "person or thing injured, lost, or destroyed," or that "taciturn" means "temperamentally disinclined to talk"? I'm fond of "lowering" skies, which are "dark, gloomy, and threatening." Many of us pick up words through conversation or reading that we're comfortable using, but can't actually define. In writing, it's often best to look these up. You may get the joy of discovering just how bang-on the word you want to use is!

2. The Thesaurus. These are even more fun than dictionaries. Maybe you're describing a man who is "sulky," but that isn't quite the word you want. Look it up in the thesaurus and discover a new world of possibilities: perhaps he is glum, sullen, surly, morose; choleric, crabby, cranky, or cross; irascible, irritable, or just plain petulant.

Every word has its own shades of meaning. Choosing the right one will not only give your writing clarity, it will give it power.

Check back next Wednesday for "Say What You Mean: Part 2," in which we discuss the insidious insipidity of "seems" and "like" and other words to be avoided.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

home again, home again, jiggety-jog

... and the long silence shatters. I'm home!

For the last almost two weeks I've been staying in a little wooden A-frame halfway up a wooded hill in New Hampshire, with a very dear friend, her husband, and their three little boys. (That is, I was when I wasn't stuck in airports and flying to geographically illogical locations in the United States due to cancelled flights... okay, fine, it was ONE cancelled flight, but I think these things should be measured in emotional minutes)

It was an excellent time, which not only healed me of bronchitis and gave me a rest, but allowed me to reconnect with said dear friend and engage in many long and nocturnal conversations which I'll be chewing on for a while. We traipsed through territory strange and wild, but do you know what the most exciting thing we discovered was?

It was the Gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. Over the past two weeks we got challenged to really believe what we believe. To take the Word of God and count it as reality. There was nothing precisely new in what we discovered, just the tremendous power of what God has done. Who needs "new" when the Gospel is eternal and unchanging and full of life?

My challenge to you today: remember! Remember the old truths on which your life is founded. Rediscover the power and love of God.

And if you don't know the old truths, contact me... I'd love to share them with you!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Writing Tips: 5 Secrets of Highly Effective Proofreading

No matter how nitpicky you are, errors in your writing will camouflage themselves. That's why publishing companies spend a lot of money to have multiple people check and re-check the little details in every book they produce. Still, there's no need to fear if you don't have a professional team at work every time you jot down a memo. Here are some tricks I use for effective proofreading:

1. Give it some time. If you've written a short note that you want to check for errors, do something else for five minutes before you read it over again. If you've written an article or essay, eat lunch before you proofread... if a book, wait a month or so. When the words you meant to write are fresh in your mind, you won't see the words you actually did write.

2. Take your time. Don't speedread when you're proofing. Skimmers never prosper.

3. Read out loud! I know, I know, if you mutter to yourself all the time you'll look like a crazy person. But it's worth it. Your ears will often catch what your eyes do not, so read under your breath when you're looking for errors.

4. Check for homophones--"soundalikes." I mark them in my students' writing all the time, but they're just as prone to show up in mine: here/hear, right/write, its/it's, there/their/they're, and all the rest of them. Put your brain on red alert for these, because we ALL type the wrong one now and again, and most of us won't see it afterward if we're not looking.

5. If it sounds wrong, check it. If a sentence sounds wrong to you, chances are there's something off in the grammar. Don't stay in a grey zone on this--learn what the problem is so you don't keep making it. I recommend Strunk and White's Elements of Style for the most common foibles.

That's it for today... I'm off to do email for five minutes, after which I'll come proofread these tips!

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Friday, October 06, 2006

fearless foundations

Commenting on the Amish shootings yesterday, Spunky Homeschool said,

"When we made the decision to homeschool, school safety was hardly a factor. But if we were faced with making the decision to homeschool today, I am sure their safety would definitely weigh heavily in our minds. And not just from the physical harm they may face, but from the perspective of what type of environment my children are presented with on a daily basis."

Childhood lays the foundation for the rest of our lives: that's why homeschooling is so important. We have a few foundational years in which our perceptions, reactions, and values are shaped. For good or ill, these things will remain with us for the rest of our lives. They may drag us down or spur us onward, but they will always be there.

One of the materials that so often gets into the mortar of the early years is fear. Enough of it will weaken the whole foundation. Fear of rejection of capricious and shallow peers... fear of bullying, marginalization, and ostracism... fear of being shot when you walk in the door. Sending children out to be guarded by teachers and police officers, away from their fathers (their God-given protectors) and mothers (their God-given comforters) is not a good way to lay a foundation of confidence and fearlessness.

Just as memories of happiness and peace give us courage to face sorrow, so a foundation of parental protection and care, safe under the wings of home, gives us courage to overcome the dangers of adult life. One who has not been given this foundation has a much harder road to walk.

Like Spunky says, it's not just about physical harm. It's about the environment children are in every day and how that environment is shaping them as human beings.

This isn't a condemnation of parents who send their kids to public schools--though if any of this leads you to rethink that, I would be honoured--but a call for us to think about foundations. Everyone who has influence in a child's life, and that means parents above all others, should think about the foundation they're laying. Does your way of life cast out fear, or invite it in?

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Writing Tips: Show, Don't Tell

My apologies for getting this tip up a day late... I'm battling the combined invasion of travel, computer problems, and bronchitis. We shall triumph!

"Show, don't tell" is the first rule of good narrative. As a writing coach, I repeat it about thirty times a week. The art of showing--of giving readers eyes and ears and allowing them to live in a scene that you have created--is what sets narrative apart from other forms of writing. It is behind the phenomenal success of the novel, and ensures that writing will always be the most powerful way to communicate a story.

Over time, "showing" becomes an instinct. In the beginning, most of us need to work at it. There's a certain magic to it that's hard to break down and analyze, but at its nitty-grittiest showing is a matter of choosing your words wisely: specific nouns, descriptive verbs, and evocative adjectives and adverbs.

Let's take "The woman pet the dog" as our example sentence.

1. Nouns. You'll feel quite differently about the woman if I call her a "noblewoman," a "sprite," or a "hag." Likewise, "dog" calls up quite a different mental image if I change it to a "mutt," a "wolfhound," or "her faithful sheepdog." Always be specific when you name things, and pay attention to the mental images each name creates.

2. Verbs. "Pet" will do for communicating action, but "stroked," "tousled," or "gently caressed" will do a good deal better. When you write descriptive verbs, go for the unexpected. How do we feel about a hag who gently strokes the sheepdog at her feet, or the noblewoman who tousles a mutt's ears when no one's looking? When you show rather than tell, you'll find a thousand opportunities to betray character.

3. Adjectives and Adverbs. I love adjectives. Adverbs should be used sparingly: if your verbs are strong enough, they won't need them. But a few well-placed modifiers will do a lot in creating a vivid scene. Is the woman beautiful and the dog ugly, or the other way around? Is her hand shaking... is the dog whimpering?

"Show, don't tell" will serve you faithfully through any sort of story. Lord Byron said "Words are things." Make sure the things you create are full of substance and life, and readers will hunger for more.

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